It Is Difficult to Remain a Bystander in Any Conflict

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‘It is difficult to remain a bystander in any conflict’ Conflict has an extraordinary capacity to draw human beings towards one side or another, even when they are unwilling to be drawn. Of its very nature it divides the world into simple categories: those who are ‘with us’ and those who are ‘against us’. Even when we know that the world is not so black and white, the heat of conflict can make some of the various shades of grey seem irrelevant or even self-indulgent. Even when people make a commitment to remain aloof from conflict, it has an insidious way of drawing them in. Thus a person can initially adopt a neutral stance, but soon become mired in the conflict and unable to withdraw. Moreover, one’s own moral instincts often force a person to engage with one side or another. Once the moral choices become clear it can be difficult to remain detached. Finally, once gains some perspective on what conflict truly entails it becomes almost impossible to remain a bystander. The long and brutal history of conflict between the western powers and the eastern bloc over the issue of communism illustrates just how people can be drawn into a conflict whether they wish to or not. Thomas Fowler, the protagonist of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, is a case in point. The novel presents him as the perfect image of a cynical, disengaged man. A man who has seen too much of the 20C and its wickedness to ever be seduced by the ‘liberation’ rhetoric of the United States. Nor does he seem to believe in any other ‘ism’ such as communism. He imagines that he is simply there to record the ‘facts’ of the Vietnamese conflict. Politically, he claims to be disengaged. He claims not to care. Yet in the ‘tower’ scene, as he argues with Pyle, it becomes clear that he cares very much for the welfare of the Vietnamese people. He cares that their way of life is being trampled in the name of
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